She’s already left for the hospital when Mulder gets home from the grocery store. He pushes the door open with his foot, arms paper-bags full of things she loves to eat and rarely allows – whipped cream and chocolate from the fancy end of the candy aisle, Twizzlers and regular Coca-Cola.
“Scully!” he calls and Will saunters in behind him, gravely entrusted with the detail of egg-carton carrying.
“Scully!” William says. It’s only relatively recently, as he’s gotten to know his school friends and their families, that he’s realized it’s somewhat unusual for his mom and dad to have different last names, and very unusual for his mom and dad to call one another by them.
“But why?” he’d asked that day after dinner at Noah’s house. Mulder had sighed at the steering wheel and after considering a child-friendly explanation of law enforcement etiquette, gender politics in the workplace and the evolution of their particular partnership into couplehood, he’d settled on:
“She likes it.” William had nodded with a furrowed brow, as if this made sense of everything, everything he’d ever wondered.
“Just like she likes kissing me,” Mulder had added to lighten the mood of enlightenment and William groaned.
“I know, gross.”
Now he calls the name again and when William repeats it again, Mulder notes the empty echo pitter pattering back across the foyer with a sinking feeling in his chest. His shoulders fall as he sets the bags down on the kitchen counter and opens the refrigerator, puts a hand out for Will to hand over the eggs. Will reaches his arms out like he’s handling a bomb and Mulder pretends to almost-drop it when it’s finally handed over.
“Dad!” William scolds, not apparently in the mood for this joke. He’s gotten a hint of what’s happened here. “Did she have to go to work?”
It’s stoic rather than sulky, a boy who like his father, just wants to know the truth. Mulder finds the note signed Mom and senses the disappointment rising off her squiggly letters.
“Looks like it.”
“But it’s Mothers’ Day. I’m supposed to make her pancakes.”
A boy who, like his mother, is haunted by his own loyalty.
“Can I stay up until she gets home?”
Mulder licks his lips and takes a deep breath as he prepares to let his son down and momentarily wonders how Scully would put this. Though he’s the parent who spends more time with their child, he still often finds himself doing this, double-checking his decisions against her judgment. She’s his mother and there are simply things she knows that Mulder has to learn. It has been this way from the beginning – William would cry and only Scully could feed him. Now Mulder usually feeds him, but it takes imagining her disapproval not to feed him cookies and Coca-Cola every meal.
He sees Will standing in his assembly line position, ready to place the Ready Whip and the strawberries and the butter on their rightful thrones. Scully would surely want William in bed on time, getting rest for school. But the lesson of working to keep a promise surely would mean something to her as well. Not to mention the goofy smile she tended to make around pancakes. He’d only found out she liked pancakes the morning after he found out how much she liked his tongue inside her. Some things, seven years of working together just don’t tell you about a person.
“We can try,” Mulder says. “But you have to do everything I say. It’s going to be tricky.”
Surprised to have gotten a yes, William’s eyebrows rise to Scully-esque heights, but his lips are straight and steady, ready to take on this unexpected duty. And he approaches the rest of the evening with the same military style obedience. He takes his bath early, goes down for a nap at six o’clock with minimal resistance, though he makes Mulder swear this isn’t just a trick to achieve an early bedtime.
At nine-thirty, Scully texts that she’s finally on her way home and Mulder bends at his son’s bedside. “Go time, buddy,” he whispers as he shakes the little shoulder and William shoots up out of bed, puts his robe on over his PJs (another thing he gets from his mother, this absolute reverence for formal bedwear), scrambles double-time, two feet on each step, down the staircase as Mulder takes all the ingredients out.
Mulder pulls a chair up to the counter so Will can stand on it while they mix the flour and milk and then hands William a half a glass of Coke with a straw in it.
“Just this once,” Mulder swears as William eagerly accepts and slurps. Mulder almost tells him to slow down, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he could get the cup out of sight by the time she gets home.
When she gets home, she pushes the door closed quietly, turns the deadbolt full way rather than flicking it so as not to wake anyone, but still Mulder hears her sigh. It is an I don’t know how to marry all the good parts of my life to one another kind of sigh, an I feel guilty for having anger when I’m so blessed kind of sigh, an I’ve been looking at bloody people all day when it wasn’t supposed to be my turn kind of sigh.
“Scully?” He holds his finger at his lips and William manages to obey though the sugared-up, caffeinated, rule-breaking holiday glee on his face is at fever pitch.
There’s a mystified look on her face, a surprise-party kind of face as she decides whether to be flattered or livid. She bites her lip, deciding whether she wants them to see her smile yet. Mulder is not the only one who can read her this easily. William bursts into a giggling fit and almost falls off the chair so Mulder scoops him up.
“What… is this?” she asks. “It’s ten-thirty.”
“Pancakes!” William squeals. And then she allows the smile out of its toothy cage. “And soda!”
She gives Mulder a look but he knows the various temperatures of her anger, and this is soft-boiled reproach at worst.
“Good, I’m starving,” she says and comes to kiss Will on the forehead.
“Set the table,” Mulder orders as he puts him down, greedily wanting a moment with her to himself, if only to make sure he’s not in too much trouble. There are some Mother’s Day gifts he’s hoping to give as well, later.
“How’s he going to get up for school?” she says softly as he puts an arm sideways around her waist.
“You’re more important than school.”
“Mulder,” she says and it’s an I like this Mulder, a my life is good Mulder, an I love you Mulder. He kisses her and pulls her a little closer round the front, wedged between him and the counter. She puts her arms around his neck, hands reeking of Purell, as he kisses her.
“Scul-ly!” William moans, thoroughly grossed out. She laughs, but stays huddled beneath Mulder’s arm, her face on his chest.
“I told you, she does this all the time, it’s way out of line,” Mulder says. “Can’t keep her hands off me.”
William comes to tug her wrist toward the table, sits her at the place he’s set for her. One of his plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle plates, an unevenly folded napkin. Mulder catches her wiping the corner of her eye.
“Why do you keep calling me that?” she asks Will.
“Dad says you like it.”
She furrows her brow as she looks back at Mulder. He serves her the three best pancakes and bends to whisper.
“Don’t worry. I haven’t told him anything else you like.”
She pushes him away as three silver-dollar sized Alien-face pancakes land on Will’s plate. Mulder can practically see the Coca-Cola metabolizing – he’ll be falling asleep at the table within a half hour. But that’s plenty of time.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Just like I promised.”
“Thanks, Will,” she says but she looks at Mulder, and he knows she’s going to like what he has for her too.